Still going strong and still ace. Not even a downpour of biblical proportions could dampen the mood.
Date: June 28, 29 and 30, 2013
Venue: Midland Railway Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire
‘twas Saturday evening. Scottish indie-folk heroes Camera Obscura are due to take to the outdoor stage at Indietracks when all of a sudden a cloud bursts and a mighty deluge of biblical proportions descends on what had been a hitherto baking hot day. It threatens to wash away hopes of the survival of the festival, as where once a grassy knoll stood there is now just a treacherous mudslide, and where just the night before people had moshed to Bis, a reservoir has formed. This wasn’t just rain. This was cataclysmic rain.
But the organisers and technicians at Indietracks insisted that the show must go on. And so it did. With a slight delay, Camera Obscura played in the engine shed stage, and spirits were raised once more.
That hard work and solidarity is typical of the festival’s staff. They laughed in the face of adversity, pulled together and showed the heavens that despite being one of the country’s smallest festivals, it would not be curtailed by a bit of water.
But allow me if you will to rewind 24 hours. On a glorious summer evening, seminal electro-pop pioneers Bis had started the party, with help from all-girl pop-punkers and feminist threesome The Tuts. As opening nights go, this was near perfect. Bis played their hits. ‘Kandy Pop’, ‘Secret Vampire’, ‘Eurodisco’, ‘Sweet Shop Avengerz’ were all present, and still sounded as fresh as a new edition of NME. Bis encapsulate the spirit of Indietracks, and send everyone back to their tents with an appetite whetted for two full days of indie pop fun and games to come.
Indietracks, should you need reminding, is a quaint little gathering of all things indie pop set on the grounds of a preserved steam railway with the rolling Derbyshire countryside as its backdrop. Between 1,500 and 2,000 punters have the option of three stages: the main outdoor stage perched below a grass bank, the engine shed – which doubles as a well-stocked bar – and a tin tabernacle church, which doubles as a sauna when the sun shines!
Also, bands play on the train, so as a steam train pulls you along the 3-mile stretch of track, you can listen to such acts as Cornwall’s alt.folk troubadour Harvey Williams and Emma Kupa from Standard Fare. Although like the church, the heat inside the carriage is ridiculous, and unless you can bear the furnace or happen to be over 6 foot and can stand at the back where there’s the breeze from the open window, there’s little hope of actually seeing the artists.
Elsewhere various workshops exist, including a demonstration of how to make your own bow-tie and the challenge to create album covers from Lego. It’s these quirky little things that form the essence of this unique and equally ace festival.
Music wise, just about every aspect of indie is covered by nearly 60 acts. So after a look around the museum and a ride on the narrow gauge railway with the family (kids are very much catered for here…), the aptly-named The Choo Choo Trains are performing their all-girl shoegazing in the engine shed. Then, having endured that sweaty ride on board the “music train” to see – well, hear – Emma Kupa, The Magic Theatre – a two-piece made up of one-time indie stalwarts Ooberman – are gently performing their sweet and soft poetic yarns of lost romance in the church. It’s the perfect setting for their hushed synth-pop.
The highlight of the day, however, are The Wave Pictures. Despite the onset of a slight shower, they maintain their outdoor audience by virtue of some finely-crafted and lyrically-deft leftfield indie. Think Hefner and you’re almost there.
Moving indoors, Cars Can Be Blue show us that their lyrics can be, too. Despite the presence of children, they run though a set peppered with tongue-in-cheek filth. But for us grown ups, it’s a bit of comical, risqué fun. Although at times their lyrical content leave a few mouths gaping in a “Did she really just say that?!” kind of way.
Back outside and Glasgow’s alternative rock veterans The Pastels are putting in a pared down performance. Even old fans admitted that their set left them feeling a little deflated. Much better are The Brilliant Corners in the engine shed, another band of veterans who include a cheery song – complete with joyful trumpet – about domestic violence in a set of old-school indie, the type you’d expect on an old Wonder Stuff LP.
Then came the rain and Camera Obscura, whose set is heavy with picks from their new record, but peaks with French Navy, a song you can’t help but smile at, even if you know you’re going to get soaked once they’ve finished their set.
As Sunday arrives, there are fears that last night’s downpour may have turned the site into a boggy quagmire. However, despite a few puddles and damp grass, the warm air has done its best to return the site to normal.
There’s nothing normal about Flowers, though. This band is extraordinary, dividing opinions and gaining new fans with their pulsating Savages-like punk ideals. The howls of their awkward-looking female lead singer are similar to The XX’s shadowy front woman Romy Madley Croft, and in fact their sound is how that band would sound if they were wired to the National Grid. They are quite stunning, and could be the highlight of the weekend along with Bis and The Wave Pictures.
Elsewhere Derby’s Lardpony pick up where Britpop left off, Fear of Men gaze at their shoes (in a good way) and Martha, a band from Pity Me in County Durham, are like Maximo Park had they invented punk 10 minutes before coming on stage and were eager to show it off. Their boisterous set, which includes a raucous cover of Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, prompts a stage invasion, led by those naughty scamps from The Tuts. And in another Indietracks first, the guitarist launches himself into the crowd for a spot of crowdsurfing. Martha brought rock ‘n’ roll to Indietracks, and it was more than welcome.
Inside, rock ‘n’ roll was making way for punk. Firstly, The Lovely Eggs provide some stripped back comedic proto-punk. There are only two of them – married couple Holly Ross and David Blackwell, the latter responsible for some incendiary drumming and backing vocals, the former scathing buzz-saw guitar and lead vocals. Visually they look like Bobby Gillespie and Yvette Fielding, sonically they’re like nothing you’ve ever heard. Simple, smart and whimsical lyrics; songs sang with a distinctive Lancashire accents with topics that include ennui (‘Fuck It’), going on holiday and remembering the mundanity of everyday life (‘Panic Plants’) and the brilliantly twee, almost nursery rhyme-esque ode to missing out on stuff ,‘Have You Ever Heard a Digital Accordion?’. They’re banter is excellent, their shtick uncommon. Another highlight.
Less impressive are Swansea’s punk rockers Helen Love, whose obsession with The Ramones is a little too obvious, obsessive and cloying. It’s a fuzzy rush of 3-minute punk-pop snippets, but it lacks purpose. They do, however, have a glitter canon and their set is witness to the second stage invasion of the day.
Headlining the festival are little-known dream-pop band Still Corners. Their ambient moodscapes created via a mix of soothing synth melodies and delicate guitar hooks really shouldn’t work as a headliner. But, as a slight breeze blows in, and as many festival goers are now beginning to chill out as their cider intake begins to take its toll, the band’s intoxicating, heady Zero 7-meets-Lana Del Rey sound is perfect for the festival’s finale.
Yet again Indietracks has pulled off a blinder. The heavens did their best to scupper plans with its deluge, but this festival, despite its diminutive stature, is defiant, mighty and triumphant. Long may it reign supreme (watery pun intended).
Bis headline Friday night…
Stage invasion during Martha’s set.
One of the festival highlights, The Lovely Eggs in the engine shed.